The influence of your physical environment on the quality of your meditation is an under-researched area. All the time that neuropsychology struggles to demonstrate what meditation is and how it works, the impact of your meditation environment will remain a secondary issue for scientists. But there is a risk that this creates a ‘catch 22’ situation in research, where failing to attend to the meditation environment contributes to inconclusive results. So let me draw your attention to the importance of your meditation space. Looking across the psychological evidence, there is every reason to assume, where, when and why you meditate are just as important as the method you use. Scientific studies from educational psychology have demonstrated that the place where you learn is correlated to your academic progress. As medicalised meditation has been reduced to simple mind-training, there is every reason to see this as a useful comparison with modern meditation and mindfulness.
On a practical level, I can tell you that when I created a calm and appropriate meditation space in my small house, the benefits from my practice multiplied. If someone has a very high or very low motivation to meditate, the room they choose to practice in rarely matters. But for the 95% of people who have ’normal’ levels of motivation, factors such as ambience, quality of method and teacher reliability become directly linked to the success of the practice. So what do you need to think about?
My first principle of meditation is to always to find a reliable teacher; someone who will be able to instruct you on all matters, including where and with whom to meditate. But there are a few principles that everyone working with meditation should consider. In all probability, few people have a perfect space to meditate in, so the chances are you will have to think about creating one. From the options you have available to you, where does your practice work best? From this starting point, you must pay particular attention to this space; it can be a spare bedroom or a corner of your own bedroom. Exclude all physical and mental obstacles to your meditation practice from that space. Create the best possible sensory experience, no bad smells, distracting noises or unpleasant images. Ensure you keep your mind stable whenever you are in the space, even if you are not meditating. In this way, you build up supportive embodied cognition; this means that when you sit down on the cushion there, your mind is already ‘in the zone’.
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